Vatican suspends 'bling bishop'
By Dario Thuburn, AFPVATICAN CITY--The Vatican on Wednesday suspended indefinitely a German Catholic cleric dubbed the “bling bishop” for his luxury lifestyle, despite multiple calls in Germany for the prelate to be dismissed.
October 24, 2013, 12:07 am TWN
“The Holy See deems it appropriate to authorize a period of leave from the diocese for Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst,” the Vatican said in a statement.
“The Holy Father has been continuously and objectively informed of the situation,” it said.
“A situation has been created in which the bishop can no longer exercise his episcopal duties.”
It did not specify how long the bishop would have to stay away but added that this would depend on an analysis of the finances of his Limburg diocese and the responsibilities for its high costs.
The bishop flew to Rome last week with low-cost airline Ryanair to explain himself to Francis — following accusations he took a business-class ticket on a trip to India and squandered money.
His private quarters in a new diocesan building are reported to have cost some 2.9 million euros (US$3.9 million) and included a 63-square-meter dining room and a 15,000-euro bathtub — using the revenue from a religious tax in Germany.
The reports have caused a scandal in Germany and sparked calls for greater transparency in Catholic Church finances — a reform aim of the new pope who has called for a “poor Church for the poor.”
Asked for a reaction after Wednesday's news, government spokesman Georg Streiter said: “There is no comment from the German government. This is an internal matter for the Church.”
The 53-year-old bishop is under fire over the ostentatious building project in the ancient town of Limburg, which includes a museum, conference halls, a chapel and private apartments.
The project was approved by his predecessor and was initially valued at 5.5 million euros but the final bill ballooned to 31 million euros, including a 783,000-euro garden.
Tebartz-van Elst is also accused of giving false statements in court about an expensive flight he took to India to visit poor communities.
Prosecutors say the bishop gave false statements under oath in a Hamburg court battle against news weekly Der Spiegel when he denied having told the magazine's journalist that he flew business class.
Anger that taxes paid to the Church by ordinary Germans are apparently being squandered has led to demonstrations outside his residence.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor, said earlier via her spokesman Steffen Seibert that “I can express the hope that there will be an answer for believers, for people's confidence in their Church.”